NYC launches delayed reforms to chaotic private garbage truck industry

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By Dan Sears

After years of delays, the city’s sanitation department is finally slated to reform the way trash is collected from businesses across the five boroughs.

The department on Tuesday laid out its plan to follow through on a law first proposed in 2016 and finally passed in 2019 that aimed to address dangerous practices by private garbage hauling companies.

The changes won’t begin to phase in until the fall and will take more than a year to fully implement, officials said.

While the sanitation department handles most residential waste pickup in the city, a patchwork of private carting companies have been responsible for commercial pickup, servicing stores, restaurants, office buildings and almost every other private business in the city.

For decades, these carters sent their trucks on often-overlapping routes spanning three or more boroughs. The long routes were found to lead to horrendous working conditions, with garbage haulers spending more than 12 hours on many shifts.

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The companies also proved to be a public hazard. A 2021 report from the city found at least 43 people died and 107 others were injured from crashes involving commercial garbage trucks from 2010 to 2019.

The 2019 legislation requires the sanitation department to establish 20 commercial waste zones. Only three companies are allowed to pick up trash, recycling and compost from businesses in each zone.

The department announced the companies selected for each zone Tuesday. Officials said the reforms would be implemented in just one zone spanning central Queens this fall but did not have a timeline for launching the plan in the city’s other 19 commercial waste zones.

Several of the companies selected by the sanitation department have troubled safety records.

Drivers for Action Carting — which won the rights to pick up commercial waste in every zone of the Bronx, Brooklyn and all but one in Manhattan — allegedly killed five pedestrians or cyclists from 2008 to 2017. And data from the federal Department of Transportation shows the New Jersey-based company’s drivers have over the last two years been involved in crashes that injured 18 people.

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Executives at Action Carting could not immediately be reached for comment.

“These contracts are designed specifically to bring safety and worker protections to an industry long known for being dangerous and inefficient, and were crafted in compliance with all city legal requirements,” said sanitation department spokesperson Josh Goodman. “The department has the right to require independent monitors of any awardee at any time, and to cancel contracts when warranted.”

New department rules will also require safety equipment on trucks, such as back-up cameras and side lights for increased visibility, and provide annual worker safety training certifications, Goodman said.

An analysis by the department found that once the program is fully implemented, there will be a 50% reduction of miles traveled by commercial carting trucks, or about 12 million fewer miles driven every year.

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